Tue 15 Sep 2015
It’s holidays season again. I was on the road until the eve of Rosh HaShannah, so I am a little late with my festive post for the beginning of 5776. Not too late I hope, as there is a full year minus a couple of days to go. For this start of the year I chose to present you with a list of seven beautiful synagogues all built in the last 60 years in Europe, North America and Israel, with pictures and information that show that synagogues building is a living art combining tradition and modernity, faith and engineering, part of the living landscape of contemporary Judaism. Seven synagogues like the seven days of the Creation.
The Ulm Synagogue is built in a German city with an ancient tradition of Jewish life. The presence of Jews is documented in Ulm since the middle ages, with ups and downs as in many other places in Europe. Jews in Ulm are mentioned as paying taxes since the times of Louis the Bavarian (14th century) and this is also one of the first places where traditional antisemitic libels (‘the poisoning of wells’) showed up. In modern times the history of the community included achievements and expulsions, segregation and the birth as famous figures like Albert Einstein. The synagogue in Ulm combines religious and social functions in a cuboid structure designed by Susanne Gross. It stands close to the place of the older synagogue destroyed by the Nazis during the Kristallnacht.
The New Synagogue in Tallin was initiated in the 1990s when Estonia opened to the world, including Jewish tourism in one of the locations where Jewish life flourished in Europe before the Holocaust. The construction company “Kolle” executed the work of the building which includes other institutions relevant to Jewish religious life like a kosher restaurant and ritual bath.
Crossing the ocean to the United States we find in Chicago one of the most remarkable designs of its kind – Frank Lloyd’s Wright Beth Sholom (Beit Shalom). The pyramidal structure was designed between 1954 and 1958 , its structure with wire glass on the outside and translucent plastic panels inside attracts and captures the light and integrates the geometrical forms with the world outside. The form reminds the structure of the wooden synagogues in the 17th century in Eastern Europe, while the interior with its central ‘bimah’ (podium) was the result of many debates between the the famous architect and rabbi Mortimer Cohen who led the Conservative congregation that built the structure in the 1950s.
The synagogue in Tribeca, New York, was designed by William N. Berger, completed in 1967 and is also called The Synagogue of Arts. Its undulating facade and curved structure integrates in an elegant manner in a district that is populated with artists and liberal professionals, many of them non-religious and non-affiliated Jews. The programs combine the religious, cultural and social activities trying to be inclusive and open as the environment the community lives in.
A special history also characterizes the Cuban Hebrew Congregation of Miami and its synagogue, the Temple Beth Shmuel completed by Oskar Sklar in 1982. Many of the Jews in Miami are at the origin or descending from the refugees from Cuba who arrived in Florida in the early 1960s. It’s the social, cultural and philanthropic center of Jewish life in the Southern part of the city.
The campus of the Tel Aviv University is one of the most original centers of modern architecture in Tel Aviv. The double scroll structure designed by architect Michael Botta built in 1997-1998 is one of the most striking achievements with its external walls of apparent brick that seem to bring to life atemporal shapes and structures. Located in the same area as the Diaspora Museum the building hosts the Cymbalista Synagogue and the Jewish Heritage Center.
The Megillat Or Synagogue is located in Caesarea, an ancient city which was at the peak of its glory during King Herod’s time and is developed today in a community of the riches of Israel. The scroll theme is present here as well in the design of architect Knaffo Klimor, as well as the integration with the Mediterranean landscape – the blue skies, the white sands and the green lawn around with their strong colors accommodating well the white walls and the elegant and surely sketched curved lines.
Rosh HaShannah – The Jewish New Year – is a universal holiday. We actually celebrate the birthday of the Universe. To all my friends – Shana Tova, A Good New Year!